We often gasp at the amount of wealth various entrepreneurs have amassed. News about economic inequality^ (sometimes known as income inequality) is quite common lately, and so it should be. Slowly but surely, society’s patience^ is reaching the breaking point^ and when that happens, chaos^ ensues.
It is hard not to be shocked when confronted with the knowledge^ that the accumulated wealth of 42 individuals (no typo, it really is a two-digit number) is greater than that of the poorest half of the world’s population put together. And then there’s that already outdated statistic about the world’s top 1% owning more than the bottom X% (82% as of 2017 and growing).
Is there a reason to rage when these statistics show up? To many, the answer is an obvious “yes”. Indeed, the disparity is staggering, but fury isn’t usually the right attitude to address a problem. There are many factors that contribute to the present state of affairs and we are directly responsible for some of them. Owning up to this is the first step towards improving things.
As I’ll soon show, there are different kinds of “rich and powerful”. Some of these people are highly beneficial for the progress of our species, while others are destroying lives and wrecking our ecosystem, dragging down society by setting the wrong examples.
The problem isn’t with the rich. If we can even call it a problem, it lies with a society that produces individuals who would do anything to accumulate more wealth, fame and power. When such people do not possess neither the skills nor the opportunity to advance, they start breaking the rules. Eventually, they lose touch with constructive social values while trying to satisfy their insatiable hunger. Empathy and ethics go down the drain so there’s no wonder some of these people act in a completely alien way^. The good news is that it is well within our power to modify the social constructs that are at the root of all this.
Greed and recklessness
Examples about the excesses of the rich are very easy to find. Most of these cases concern an increasingly staggering waste of resources: luxury goods of questionable origin, extravagant properties and a way of life that is severely out of balance with the rest of society. Unfortunately, there are even worse excesses than the material ones, such as the exploitation of other people and, to generalize, disrespecting the ecosystem.
Some of these behaviors are not that difficult to understand because they are driven by instinct. Read this earlier article about the rules of the human game^, which describes how instinct drives a wedge between society’s noble goals and the often-greedy personal needs. Fortunately, we’re a highly adaptable species. It’s up to us to change the rules by which we play with.
Take the worst example of a human being you can think of and realize that the way they acted is, for the most part, a consequence of their education and life experience. We were all born innocent. Genetics plays a role too, of course, but especially when it comes to character and life choices, it is mostly society that shapes individuals.
Philanthropy and inspiration
What many people seem to ignore is the fact that most of the wealthy tycoons are talented administrators and gifted visionaries. They are alchemists of skill and opportunity. Many of them have blasted their way through the hard rock of ages to carve a path through which our civilization can advance.
It is not only scientists and philosophers who deserve credit for our progress. More often than not, having the courage to invest in the dreams of another (even if doing so for the purpose of taking over said dreams when they mature) and having the will power to pour one’s entire life to reach a certain goal are qualities that can produce tremendous benefit for society.
So how exactly do the super-rich help us? There are countless examples of charitable acts that have helped our society, going back to the dawn of recorded history. As our philosophy and social ethics developed, charity evolved into philanthropy^ (read the first paragraphs of the linked article to learn about the difference between the two). The number and influence of philanthropists^ make this into a very powerful social force.
One of the best examples is the Nobel Prize^. It shows how one wealthy man’s donation can ripple through time to create one of the most distinguished and inspiring recognitions of achievement a human can receive. Warren Buffet’s Giving Pledge^ is also worth mentioning as a catalyst for such acts. A less clear-cut example is Bill Gates’ wealth, which led to the creation of a foundation whose modus operandi and purposes are slightly questionable^.
We need people like Elon Musk (as controversial^ as he is) and all the other up-and-coming entrepreneurs. Such individuals always had the potential to find new ways through which we can progress. This does not mean that the abuse and unfairness of some magnates should be tolerated and accepted as the status quo.
This is why we have free press (in most of the world), so that we may find out about and openly condemn people demonstrating an unethical, unconstructive behavior. Hopefully, one day they will realize that they’ve strode away from the honorable path. Yes, these things do exist: honor, ethics and wisdom. You won’t see these words too often in the mainstream media because a sort of hopeless pragmatism has infected many writers. They have either given up on their inner idealist, or are on the payroll of the wrong camp.
The social impact of the rich and famous is very important. They can inspire in both directions: towards the betterment of society or towards the obsessive interest with one’s ego. Again, let’s not forget that we are responsible for growing the powerful people of tomorrow.
A new method is required. And here is where the Internet and social media come into play. Today, we can unite in our thoughts regarding the worldwide changes that we desire. Through direct communication and public appeal, our words will slowly make it to the ears of the people at the top of the pyramid. And instead of beheading them or, worse, scaring them into beheading us, we will pass along a message of friendship and understanding. A message that we can start…
Many activists are so hooked on this idea of “revolution”. They are strung up on violent upheaval and showing their frustration using the fist and the gun. Some people^ knew this was wrong decades ago^. Have we completely forgotten them? Revolution is not what we need. A revolution implies a return to the status quo, but history must stop repeating itself. This can only be accomplished through evolution.
It’s time to decriminalize “utopia”. We need to cut some slack to the few dreamers who believe we can transform our society into something greater. We need to forgive ourselves for our history and understand, once and for all, that our future is our own choice. Our history is not a song stuck on repeat. Only then, will we see the light at the end of the tunnel and can begin pushing ourselves towards it.
And tell me, what wise leader wouldn’t enjoy knowing that he or she has empowered this species to change its course? It’s true that there are not many wise leaders today. They mirror our society, which in turns mirrors an obsolete industrialized educational system.
The wealthy who abuse power only do so because that’s the only way they know how to cope with their inner struggles or how to derive pleasure from their existence. A significant percentage of the world’s population suffers from a disastrous lack of understanding of what happiness really is (among others: it’s not a destination, but a way of traveling through life).
It is up to us to show what life and this world can be. But we won’t ever succeed if all we do is complain until it gets too much and then violence becomes the last resort. Nothing short of a work of art will suffice. And this work of art is the web of knowledge that is right now being spun by thoughts such as these, or these^ or these^. Countless writers in countless ways^ echo the same verdict: the time for change is near.
The way forward is to spread this knowledge. Because those of us that understand what working together truly means are still in the minority, we must be patient, we must wait for our peers to be interested in the alternatives we come up with. The struggles ahead must be overcome together. This is the next test that evolution has laid in front of us.
Discouraging violent response and encouraging calm and rational discussion (this is not incompatible with going out in the streets and voicing our arguments) is the only way we can write a new chapter in this species’ history, without the stains of blood and xeroxed cemeteries that come with the ravaging tides of war.